Nothing could be more relevant to my inescapable future than my soul crushing anxiety about getting a job after graduation. It’s not a secret that college graduates today are facing one of the harshest job economies the US has seen in decades. Chegg, the well-known textbook rental company, organized a survey that compared how prepared students believed they were for the workplace versus how prepared hiring managers thought they were. They found that there was “a gap between the skills hiring managers reported seeing in recent graduates and the skills the students perceive themselves as having mastered.” This is quite a disturbing void. The survey covered skills such as compelling, concise slide presentations, organization, prioritizing work, summarizing data, public speaking, managing a meeting, creating a budget, and communicating clearly among many others.
In every category, there was at least a 10% difference between the student’s and hiring manager’s assessments of a student’s skills. My first reaction is to disregard these findings and reassure myself that I could survive and thrive in a workplace. However, that probably just means that I’ve lumped myself with every other like-minded, hopeful college student. But what are we supposed to do? Back down from challenging situations? Not apply for jobs because we might not be fully qualified? No. The most important point to take away from this study is that college students today don’t give up. We work hard because that’s the kind of environment we were faced with in school; it’s the kind of world we’re going to have to face outside of college too. However, there’s only so much us students can learn in college. Hands-on, interactive learning is invaluable. So, yes, maybe those students weren’t really prepared for those jobs, but they strived to excel and who’s to say they weren’t willing and ready to learn? Read the full study here and Gawker’s summary here.
Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of being one of the WRAC department’s Communication interns. I had the chance to work with an amazing group of people in this wonderful department, and I’ve expanded my experience in writing and working across several mediums so much that I don’t know what my skill set would look like now had I not applied for this internship last April. I’ve felt myself improve as a writer and even improve in my skills and knowledge working in the back end of a website or blog (here’s to you, WordPress).
One of my favorite websites is Thought Catalog. I can literally go on there and get lost for hours, sucked into the Thought Catalog Black Hole (as I call it) where I’ll read one article and then go down to the “More From Thought Catalog” (past the “From the Web” ads telling you to click the link to find more about what Kate Upton does in her free time. This is not a joke) and read something similar to what I just read. I save articles that I find inspiring or especially thought provoking; this list has expanded a lot in the past few months. An article I came across recently, though, I thought was appropriate subject material for my last post as a WRAC intern. Titled, “Black on White: Why We Write,” the author discusses why people keep writing, what’s happening to writing now in the 21st century (“The West is burning – the dream is gone. Or so they say. We’re all idiots. Sound bytes, sound bytes, everywhere, and no one stops to think.”), and some cynical advice he received, but how he doesn’t believe any of it.
Writers write because they love to write. I write because I love the idea of creating something new or different or something I hope might be thought provoking enough to have an impact on someone. I’ve done it since I was young, and I will most likely keep doing it throughout the rest of my college career and beyond. Even if I’m not working on some huge, mind-blowing project right now, I still find time to write because that’s who I am.
One of the last things the author says in his article is my favorite part:
“It’s a funny thing putting words on paper. So many jumbled thoughts. So many emotions and whims and desires and stories to tell and things you want people to know – maybe things they need to know. But that’s the writer’s art. You get a desk and a machine and 26 keys to do it – to make something. To put words down; words which will, strange at it seems, outlive you. We will die. Our shadows and dust will pass. But the words – the creations and works of our hands – they will remain, at least for a little while.”
These last lines are undeniably true. Whether we’re writing for the web, work, print, or pleasure, we’re always leaving some part of us behind, even for a little while. Isn’t that another reason we write? So my advice to you is keep reading, keep listening to everything, and keep writing because you never know when something like that will come in handy.
Last spring I taught the “portfolio workshop” class in the Professional Writing major. A core experience in that class is the preparation of a portfolio and the presentation of that work. Over time, these presentations have started to become more about the person and less about the work. My view is that this change is for the good. I am much more interested in how our students have grown as human beings than I am in particular communication skills or examples.
My interest in their development as human beings is connected to two longer-standing concerns of mine as a teacher: (1) an interest in learning (change), and (2) a curiosity about “having a rhetoric” as a meaningful outcome of a program of study like ours. The two are connected but not obviously so. And I don’t intend to take up either here except to say that both ask me to think about what facilitates learning or leads to one having a rhetoric.
As I sat and listened to students give presentations on who they were at the end of their time with us, I was struck by how many identified certain types of experiences as meaningful. Almost none of these experiences happened in a classroom or were curricular. Nearly every experience was extra or co-curricular. Study abroad in London. Study away in New York. The Poetry Center. Internships. Clubs, odd projects, and so on.
The value of moments (like an internship) doesn’t reside in their “content” or “curriculum” either. It is true that these moments play a key role in structuring experience. But something else happens in these moments that enables change for these students. I’m not precisely sure what it is except that I am convinced that an essential ingredient is that “the experience” asks something of our students that is challenging if not also a bit scary. Meaningful experiences make students uncomfortable.
I could have been upset given that only a few of our students named our classrooms, our assignments, or our curriculum as key moments of change. But I wasn’t. We can take some credit for making transformative experiences possible for our students. And of course, they are smart enough to take advantage of these opportunities. My point, however, is that there are certain sorts of experiences that facilitate change, some of them life-altering, and not all of them happen in our classrooms. Indeed, very few of them happen in our classrooms. Good academic programs, however, enable students to understand the world as a learning platform and to go into that world to transform and be transformed.
“Internships are an almost non-negotiable step between you and a job in publishing.”
If you’re trying to break into a career in publishing, then an internship is an “unalterable factor” everyone wanting to break into publishing deals with. Publishing Trendsetter offers a blog post about the pros and cons of interning at a small, startup company versus a larger publishing house after one of their readers came to them asking if it would be beneficial to do so, and what kinds of opportunities await someone who might intern for a digital publisher, as well.
Internships are an essential part of a student’s college path to the career they want. Not only do you receive real-world experience by interning at a business or company you can see yourself working for, but you also receive the chance to network and meet people in your desired field or career with every internship you take on.
Once you have an internship, though, it’s your job to make the most out of it and receive the kind of experience you want to take away from it. Tina Ray, an MSU Rhetoric & Writing alum who now works with MessageMakers in East Lansing, recently wrote a blog post on MessageMakers’ website about how interns can be “awesome” by “being proactive.” In this post, she explains that she’s worked with a lot of interns over the past seven years at MessageMakers, and one thing that stands out to her the most is “how much their success depends on proactivity.”
What I found the most useful were her tips to effectively be proactive in your internship. Such as speaking up about projects you wish to be part of, especially if they are something that interests you. She also suggests to “take responsibility for your workflow” and keep busy; ask if there is anything else you can do if you don’t have enough to do. Also, ask for feedback on your work so you know what you’re doing right and things you could improve upon, and always take opportunities that are offered to you.
“They are an opportunity for you to get used to business settings that may become a part of your career life, to professionalize yourself, and to make connections with others that may be beneficial later.”
Even if the internship doesn’t turn into a full-fledged job, the experience is what you will take with you as you continue your career path to the job that’s best for you.
Artist American Opera performs for a crowd at Middle of the Mitten festival. Check out the Middle of the Mitten facebook page and tumblr for the lineup and media from the event.
The Middle of the Mitten Festival expanded this year, spanning two days on the weekend of February 3rd and 4th. A showcase for local and independent musical artists, the event drew crowds numbering in the hundreds. Originally founded four years ago by Joel Heckaman, a PW alum, Middle of the Mitten has recently been established as a non-profit organization.
This year Jon Ritz, a PW professor and advisor, continued to serve as faculty supervisor for PW students as they worked on the Middle of the Mitten event. Students Dan Nufer, Alyson Gines, Mike Kulick, Noelle Sciarini, Shelby Dosser, Mary Davidson, and Kyle Pacynski all contributed to making this year’s Middle of the Mitten event exceptional. PW senior Sciarini said, “Scene Metrospace is a really cool place for concerts, and it was awesome to see our work come together in such a big event. I’d definitely recommend this experience to any student.”
Interested students will be able to help out next year through a Middle of the Mitten student group. As an official non-profit, Joel Heckaman invites anyone interested in interning for WRA 493 credit to look into the organization. “[An internship during] fall semester would be for the Middle of the Mitten Festival, and spring semester would be for the Record Store Day fundraiser,” said Heckaman.
This year, as a part of her Instructional Technology Graduate Assistantship, first year R&W doctoral student, Beth Keller
, has joined with the WRAC communications management interns in coordinating the work of the WRAC website.
Photo courtesy of Beth Keller
She says her favorite part of the position is getting to work with and closely mentor the PW interns: “speaking in terms of mentorship, getting to know someone through their writing, and seeing their ideas, writing, and process grow and change is very rewarding.”
As part of the position, Keller is responsible for maintaining the department’s website, creating a sustainability handbook, and supervising the interns; however, she is also taking this opportunity to research mentorship among women.
“[This position] gives me an experience of what it’s like observing people using writing to accomplish granular tasks, how those tasks help accomplish larger goals, and also how to manage and influence that process,” she says.
Because of this position, Keller proposed and was accepted to two conferences (Computers and Writing, and ATTW) for 2012. Keller is excited to see what comes from the position, and plans to continue researching mentorship, sustainability processes, and writing as work throughout her stay at MSU and beyond.
Professor Laura Julier, associate chair of WRAC and director of the Professional Writing Program, was recently selected as the new editor of Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction. She is excited with the new position because “studying, writing, and teaching nonfiction has been the core of my professional work for a long time,” she says, “so being chosen to edit this journal is a huge and wonderful thing.”
Fourth Genre is a literary journal dedicated to publishing notable and innovative work within the genre of nonfiction. (The title refers to the fact that the traditional canon for teaching literature focused primarily on the genres of fiction, poetry, and drama.)
Fourth Genre editorial staff
photo by Kristel Klank
Under the previous editor, the journal has progressively broadened from its original focus on personal essays and memoir to welcoming alternative forms of nonfiction, including photo essays, graphic essays, and works that blur the lines between genres. Julier says she is committed to maintaining the long tradition of excellence. Works by a number of the journal’s editors and writers have won awards, the most recent example being the inclusion of eight essays published in Fourth Genre in the Notables list for Best American Essays 2011.
Having Fourth Genre in WRAC and having Julier as the editor provides huge opportunities for students in both the Professional Writing and Rhetoric and Writing programs. Julier says, “I’m particularly happy to be able to bring the resources and opportunities that the journal affords to the [Professional Writing] program. The R&W PHD program has a concentration in nonfiction writing, so this also increases opportunities for graduate students.” She also talks about the ways in which the journal complements the PW curriculum: students in the editing and publishing track can gain invaluable experience as part of the editorial staff on a nationally recognized journal through internships.
Six students are currently doing just that: Lauren Ebelt and Kimberly Tweedale (both Professional Writing seniors), Ziev Beresh (senior English major), Christine Scales, (Interdisciplinary Humanities major), Natalie Graham, who’s writing her dissertation in American studies, and Katie Livingston, who’s in the R&W PHD program. Interns read and screen submissions, log and organize manuscripts, and help oversee the production of the journal. Ebelt comments that she is gaining experience in evaluating manuscripts to determine what makes a really good piece of nonfiction writing, a skill that will be valuable to any publishing house.
Working for Fourth Genre, with support from the College of Arts and Letters and the MSU Press, will enable all the interns to travel to Chicago in February to the annual Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference. “The ability to provide talented students with this kind of experience, this visibility and a connection to this kind of notable, national publication, in a way that will give them a significant advantage as they seek professional positions in literary editing and publishing,” said Julier, “is absolutely the most satisfying part of being named editor.”